ATHEIST ETHICS IN 500 WORDS. John B. Hodges, Dec. 21, 2007.
How can you have any ethics if you don't believe in God?
The question must BE questioned. How can you have any ethics if you DO believe in a god?
Religious folk misunderstand morality at its roots. Religion teaches a child's view of ethics, that "being good" means "obeying your parent". Just as religious faith is believing what you are told, so religious morality is doing what you are told. Religious morality consists of obeying the alleged will of God, an invisible "Cosmic Parent", as reported by your chosen authority. But obedience is not morality, and morality is not obedience. We can all think of famous people who did good things while rebelling against authority, and others who did evil things while obeying authority.
Religious folk may be Good Samaritans or suicide bombers, it depends entirely on what their chosen authority orders them to do. If a believer, or a community of same, wishes to make war or keep slaves or oppress women, all they have to do is persuade themselves that their god approves. This seems not to be hard, and no god has ever popped up to tell believers that they were wrong. They do not have a code of morality except by the convenience of the priesthood. What they have is a code of obedience, which is not the same thing.
Atheism means looking at ethical questions as an adult among other adults. Civic morality is a means of maintaining peace and cooperation among equals, so that all may pursue happiness within the limits that ethics defines. If you want to maintain peaceful relations, don't kill, steal, lie, or break agreements. This civic morality is objective. As Shakespeare wrote: "It needs no ghost, Milord, come from the grave, to tell us this."
Because we are biological beings evolved by natural selection, most of us value the health of our families, where "health" is the ABILITY to survive, and "family" is "all who share your genes, to the extent that they share your genes." This is also called "inclusive fitness" by biologists. Essentially all living beings are going to seek this, because their desires are shaped by natural selection, and inclusive fitness is what natural selection selects for.
Because humans are social animals, who survive by cooperating in groups, we have a "natural" standard of ethics: The Good is that which leads to health, The Right is that which leads to peace. A "good person" is a desirable neighbor, from the point of view of people who seek to live in peace and raise families. Most people understand this intuitively. Understanding the logic of it is better. "If you want peace, work for justice."
There is a long history of philosophical thinking about ethics. Morality is not based on authority, but on reason and compassion. If I had to recommend just one book on ethics, it would be GOOD AND EVIL: A NEW DIRECTION by Richard Taylor.